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Jenna Starborn Paperback – April 2, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of the Samaria trilogy (Archangel, etc.) offers a moving, if somewhat less introspective, retelling of Jane Eyre that is sure to appeal to SF readers with a taste for romance. The product of the planet Baldus's gen-tanks, Jenna Starborn is used to a life of pain and privation. After being educated at a technical school that focuses on the growth of the mind to the exclusion of all else, Jenna accepts a job as a nuclear reactor maintenance technician at remote Thorrastone Park, owned by the wealthy Everett Ravenbeck. She becomes indispensable to the household and to Everett. Despite their difference in stations Jenna is only a half-citizen they fall in love. After a long, difficult courtship made longer because of the perversity of the two principals, the two plan to marry. But at the wedding, Jenna receives a terrible shock: Everett has another wife. Unable to live with him as his wife without being married, Jenna flees to a remote planet, where she falls in with a family that provides help and aid to travelers. She's on the verge of deciding whether to marry another and go with him to colonize a new planet when she hears Everett's voice, impossibly calling from afar. Reader, need we say what happens next? Jane Eyre fans will enjoy tracking the character and plot parallels. Shinn fans will enjoy the way the author perfectly captures the tone and color of Bront while maintaining Jenna's unique voice. Best of all, Jenna's narrative makes us feel joy in her love, sorrow in her despair, numb in her shock. (Apr. 2)Forecast: Unlike Jasper Fforde's satiric literary fantasy, The Eyre Affair (Forecasts, Dec. 17), this novel is targeted primarily at a female audience. Ad coverage in Romantic Times and Shinn's established reputation in the romance field will ensure plenty of crossover support.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Conceived in the gen-tanks on the planet Baldus and rejected by the woman who commissioned her birth, Jenna Starborn finds a career as a nuclear generator technician on the inhospitable planet Fieldstar. At the estate of Thorrastone Park, Jenna finds solace and friendship in the household's staff; she also succumbs to a forbidden attraction to the mysterious master of the house, Everett Ravenbeck, and finds her life changed forever. The author of the Samaria trilogy (Archangel, Jovah's Angel, and The Alleluia Files) has adapted the classic plot of Jane Eyre, setting it in a distant future where money and status divide humanity into citizens and half-citizens, and where breaking social barriers becomes a near impossibility. This hybrid blend of sf drama and Gothic romance features a strong-willed, genuinely likable heroine and belongs in most sf collections.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The novel starts out very intruigingly, with Jenna as a "manufactured" human mistreated by the human family she lives with. In this part of the novel, there are some pretty strong resemblances to the Bronte novel, but also a nice twist to make the story fresh and original.
Once Jenna goes to Fieldstar, however, all attempts at any stretch of originality, creativity, or imagination are almost entirely demolished. As I said before, I loved JANE EYRE; but if I want to read JANE EYRE, I'll read Bronte. I was expecting and anticipating Shinn to put her own twist on the basic premise of the Bronte classic--young woman falls in love with brooding employer, who turns out to be hiding a terrible secret--but I was disappointed in the way she followed J.E. so incredibly closely--she hardly even bothered to change the characters' names!
Plus, Shinn is a good writer, but not as good as Charlotte Bronte was, especially at this type of fiction. Mr. Rochester/Ravenbeck talks as if his life is the climatic scene of a really bad late Victorian melodrama, and I couldn't possibly take him seriously. On the whole, in face, the characterizations were not very good, even for Jenna's character. I felt as if the book just skimmed the surface of her life and I still didn't really know her by the end, or even if I would care to know her. She seems more of a passive observer of her life than even Jane Eyre was.
Basically, JENNA STARBORN was more like reading a scene-by-scene copy of JANE EYRE, rather than a "twist" on the original story, which makes me wonder why Shinn even bothered writing it. If you like JANE EYRE, you will like this book, no doubt about it; but as a work standing on its own it was disappointing.
I skimmed the first two thirds of it, and then skipped to the last fifteen pages. And yet I have an extremely good idea of what happened in the interim: that is, nothing significantly different from the plot of Jane Eyre. Yawn.
When I first heard that Sharon Shinn was writing a retelling of Jane Eyre in a sort of space opera setting, I was quite enthused, being a fan of Sharon Shinn, Jane Eyre (moderately, anyway), and space opera. In previous books, Shinn has managed to make even things I usually avoid in books, i.e. religion and romance-oriented plots, appealing. Unfortunately, Jenna Starborn isn't so much a retelling of Jane Eyre as it is a translation of it into a futuristic setting. Some passages between Roch--Ravenbeck and Jenna, are lifted virtually verbatim from Charlotte Bronte's gothic romance. Apart from the SF setting, and a few of Jenna's biographical details, nothing much is different. (Well, there *is* that awkward insertion of a sort of feminist Transcendentalist religion.) And some of the similarities, such as the use of the phrase, "Dear Reeder," come across as grossly self indulgent and not at all clever or witty.
Following Jane Eyre's plot too closely does absolutely terrible things to characterization. Essentially, Jenna is an incredibly bland futuristic Jane Eyre, with more interesting origins and a brilliance at science. Her story isn't particularly interesting or remotely suspenseful because every detail is already known to someone who has read Jane Eyre. But-- even worse-- she's not half as convincing a character as Jane Eyre. Jenna's not dislikable, but she's *boring.* Sharon Shinn is usually excellent at characterization, but confined by the motivations and actions of Bronte's characters, she fails to create any three dimensional characters of her own. No one escapes being a pale and unsatisfactory imitation of one of Bronte's characters.
The setting, too, compared to that of her previous books, is rather underdeveloped. It's the usual generic space opera setting, with some indication of space travel and improved medical technology and an unfamiliar religious order. Each of these has been explored better in other Shinn books; here, they all get shoved into the background of the plot and the plights of the characters, which would be all right except that those aspects are singularly uncompelling.
I was initially puzzled why the lack of original plot and therefore suspense bothered me so much; fairy tale retellings, after all, make up one of my favorite subgenres, and no one can deny that those are derivative. But I suspect that it's because good fairy tale retellings expand, explore, and add subtlety and meaning; Jenna Starborn does nothing for Jane Eyre. Even my favorite scene in Jane Eyre-- that of the fortuneteller-- in Jenna Starborn becomes quite forgettable. Everything that I found overly melodramatic and sappy in Jane Eyre is even more cringeworthy in Jenna Starborn. The original's faults are exaggerated, its virtues diminished.
The one thing that did genuinely amuse me was the inclusion of a character named Janet Ayerson (the name!), who is the tutor to Ravenbeck's young ward. Janet embarks upon a course that will be instantly familiar to any Pride and Prejudice fan, given the deliberate similarity of certain passages. In such a derivative Jane Eyre retelling, the inclusion of this allusion was pleasantly surprising. If the entire book had been full of sly literary references from a variety of sources, I would have enjoyed it a good deal more.
Released about the same time, Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair is a much, much more rewarding novel that also deals with Jane Eyre (and pet dodos, Martin Chuzzlewit, Henry James, and the Shakespeare authorship question). Jenna Starborn should be read only by those patient enough to sit through-- yes, a Jane Eyre clone with spaceships-- or those who haven't read Jane Eyre at all. I hope Sharon Shinn will return to more original subject matter; I don't think I could read it if she chose to 'retell' Pride and Prejudice similarly!